For the second year in a row, AllergyEats proudly hosted a very successful food allergy conference designed for the restaurateur and food service professional - AllergyEats’ Food Allergy Conference for Restaurateurs: What Every Restaurant Should Know About Food Allergies To Ensure Safety & Maximize Customer Engagement, Loyalty, and Revenue. Its purpose was to educate and inspire attendees about better accommodating food allergic guests through improved commitment, training, and food allergy protocols.
The attendee base, which grew tremendously versus our successful inaugural conference last year, consisted primarily of restaurant owners, managers, and chefs, as well as college and contract food service providers. There was also a nice smattering of individuals from the food allergy world, various food associations, and others. These attendees were provided valuable information from our nine A+ speakers about accommodating food allergic guests, reducing the fear around food allergies, building customer loyalty and profits, and other related food allergy issues. Attendees also received actionable tips to make their restaurants and food service facilities safer for food allergy guests.
Our 10 expert speakers were divided up into the following 4 panels:
Food Allergies: An Overview
- Dr. Wayne Shreffler, Head of the Food Allergy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital
- Lynda Mitchell, President, Kids With Food Allergies Foundation
- Dr. Michael Pistiner, Pediatric Allergist for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Voluntary Instructor of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital
These three amazing speakers described the basics of food allergies – from the science behind food allergies, to the statistics, to how food allergic individuals live their daily lives, and what food allergic diners are expecting when they go out to eat. An important point of note that came up a few times was that it’s not the restaurant staff’s job to determine how severe a guest’s food allergies are – they need to treat every guest’s allergies as serious and use every precaution in preparing their individual meals. However, while accommodating restaurants take very seriously their food allergy procedures and protocols, the reality is that sometimes mistakes do occur, so the physicians on the panel also discussed the signs of – and proper response to – allergic reactions. Did you know that if a guest is having a severe allergic reaction you shouldn’t stand them up? Statistics show that more people die from their allergic reactions after doing so. Instead, all food service personnel in a restaurant need to know NOT to move the guest (no matter how embarrassing to the restaurant) and call 911. An Epi-Pen also needs to be administered during this time, though that is not the purview of the restaurant.
Restaurants That Get It Right
- Mike Moomjian, Director, Quality Assurance & Food Safety at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
- Kevin Harron, Founder, President and CEO, Burtons Grill
- Ming Tsai, James Beard Award-Winning Chef, Owner of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon, Television Host, Cookbook Author, Food Allergy Advocate
Restaurateurs on this panel were chosen due to their expertise at accommodating guests with food allergies, from the point of view of the large chain (P.F. Chang’s), the small chain (Burtons Grill), and the independent (Blue Ginger/Blue Dragon). Worthy of note is that each of these restaurants/chains hold an exceptional AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating of 4.5 or above on our core site and app (as rated by actual food-allergic diners), with P.F. Chang’s being listed in our February 2013 press release as the country’s 2nd most allergy-friendly large chain and Burtons Grill being identified as THE most allergy-friendly chain of any size in the U.S.! These three spectacular restaurateurs spotlighted their restaurants’ best practices, including protocols they’ve implemented to improve communication, avoid cross-contamination, identify special allergen-free meals, and better accommodate guests with dietary restrictions. They emphasized that it can be challenging to recall every ingredient in every component of every dish – especially during the busy Saturday night dinner rush – so they’ve created detailed lists of ingredients in all menu items for quick, easy, accurate reference. Our panel members also explained that, in their restaurants, certain equipment is designated as allergy-friendly – such as a specific nut-free wok or a fryer that never cooks foods with common allergens, like nuts, gluten or seafood. In addition to providing their tips and protocols, these restaurateurs described why they believe so passionately about being allergy-friendly, and discussed the significant financial benefits they’ve experienced as a result.
How to Become More Allergy-Friendly
- William L. Weichelt, Director, ServSafe for the National Restaurant Association
- Betsy Craig, Founder and CEO, MenuTrinfo
Our two fantastic panel members provided “basic training” around the process of becoming more allergy-friendly during this session. Discussion centered around the importance of implementing effective food allergy protocols, procedures, and training in restaurants, and provided actionable tips for doing so. For instance, it was strongly suggested that restaurants implement visual systems to identify food allergic guests’ meals – such as double plating, using different colored or shaped dishes, or using colored frill picks to designate allergy-friendly meals. Our panelists also provided tips to minimize cross-contamination risks. As part of their presentation, they explained the “curveballs” restaurateurs could encounter – such as different names for common allergens (e.g. casein and whey are dairy ingredients), and “hidden” allergens that are often unexpected (such as nuts in barbeque sauce and gluten in soy sauce). By implementing their recommended food allergy procedures, the trainers explained that restaurants would become more confident about accommodating food allergic guests.
The Financials Around Food Allergies
- Paul Antico, Founder and CEO of AllergyEats, Food Allergy Advocate, Father of Three Food Allergic Children
In this last session, I used my extensive financial experience and background [17 years as a financial analyst and portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments] to explain the economics of accommodating food allergic diners, including the increased customer loyalty and profit opportunities. As part of my presentation, I discussed the importance of the “veto vote,” where a restaurant’s ability to accommodate the food allergic diner in a party is key in determining which restaurant the entire group will patronize, thus leading to increased business from not only the food allergic guest, but the entire dining party as well. My presentation also addressed how online tools (including, but not limited to, AllergyEats) are making the sharing of information regarding which restaurants are allergy friendly much easier for our tight-knit, loyal community, thus again driving traffic to those restaurants that make the effort. The culmination of my talk was a financial analysis to clearly demonstrate how restaurants can make significantly more money by becoming allergy-friendly.
This year’s conference, which was once again held in Boston, was sponsored by Mylan Specialty L.P., the National Restaurant Association, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, MenuTrinfo, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Having sponsors for the first time this year dramatically improved our ability to draw a wider audience and establish a more valuable conference for attendees. I can’t thank our fantastic sponsors enough for their support. It was also wonderful to have representatives from these well-respected organizations at our event and interacting with guests at their booths.
We also had a great group of fantastic vendors, including Something Sweet Without Wheat (their gluten-free whoopee pies were a huge hit with attendees… including me!), Nantucket Pasta Goddess, Ian’s (now part of Slade Gordon), Omission Beer, and Enjoy Life Foods. This was our first year implementing an exhibitor area, and the response from both sides – exhibitors and attendees – was fantastic! Attendees were absolutely engaged with the vendors and sponsors, enjoying their samples, asking thoughtful questions, and having great discussions. With this initial experience under our belt, we plan to grow the vendor part of the conference in future years.
Overall, in our anonymous exit surveys, attendees raved about the high caliber of our speakers, the valuable information these experts provided, the actionable tips they could take back to their own restaurants, the sponsors and vendors, and the ability to mix and mingle with all of the above, including other attendees. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, across all four panels. Here are some quotes:
- “Information valuable and useful in practice.”
- “Awesome event, great mix of presenters, easy to listen to.”
- “The information was very useful. I was impressed with how much was covered.”
- “Highly intellectual and comprehensive.”
- “My restaurant has been successful with accommodating food allergic individuals but always looking for ways to better our own practices. I have many more ideas!”
- “Eye opening.”
- “Inspired me.”
The press coverage this event garnered was similarly strong. (Links to various articles are on our conference website.)
We also received some excellent ideas and constructive criticism as well (and those who know me know I love to receive critical feedback). We will use all of this great input – as well as everything we learned as we were creating this event – to make next year’s conference even better!
Speaking of next year, we’re already in the planning stages for our 3rd Annual Food Allergy Conference for Restaurateurs and Food Service Professionals. As mentioned, we presently have some great new ideas to build upon our successful model! At this time, the date and location are being worked out. Watch this space – and our conference website – for more details coming soon!
Lastly, for those who couldn’t make it to Boston for this event, we will be posting videos of the entire conference and the individual presentations for sale shortly. Once again, when available they will be posted on our conference website.
Thanks to all who made this year’s conference a tremendous success – particularly my team members Sharon Studley and Adrienne Walkowiak – and I look forward to an even more impressive event next year!